Wise HS

Inside PGCPS

Conversations on Culture: Q&A with Lucy Berna, Parent Engagement Assistant

Conversations on Culture: Q&A with Lucy Berna, Parent Engagement Assistant

  • Inside PGCPS |
  • Team PGCPS |
  • September 26, 2018

Lucy Berna is a well-known fixture in the Calverton Elementary School community as one of the school system’s 85-strong team of Parent Engagement Assistants (PEAs) who work to increase family involvement, particularly within the Latino community.

Q. Tell us about your background and heritage.

I was born and raised in Guatemala. After completing a degree in education, I moved to the United States at the age of 23 on a student visa to learn English. I love my country and people, but decided to stay in the U.S. because as a woman I felt safer and more empowered.

Q. How did a degree in education lead you into work as a Parent Engagement Assistant?

My plan was to go back to school to become certified to teach here, but once we had children they became my priority. While I was a stay-at-home mom and my daughters were students at Calverton, I became very involved at the school. Every time I visited, staff were asking me to translate and help communicate with Spanish parents and I really enjoyed helping with the language barrier. One day, the principal asked me if I was interested in working as a teacher assistant at the school. Fast forward 18 years and I’ve been here as a parent liaison and now a PEA, a role that has evolved from supporting solely ESOL parents to supporting all families.

Q. What does a typical day look like for you?

In the mornings, I’m in the school’s front office greeting parents, answering questions and at this time of year, helping parents complete the meal benefits application. I’m responsible for streamlining all of the school’s parent communications to be bilingual, including phone callouts, social media, flyers, requesting interpreters for events and any other way we can keep the community informed. The PEAs are really working to remove barriers of all kinds, like language and disabilities, to help parents become more involved in their kids’ education. Our focus is helping parents navigate the school system and connecting them to other resources to improve quality of life.

Q. How would you describe your experience doing this work for nearly two decades?

In life we all have a mission and purpose. Since I was a child my goal was always to be a mother and an educator. Although I’m not teaching students, I’m working in schools and teaching parents to do what I did: help their kids be better. All three of my children attended Calverton and working as a PEA helped me not only professionally, but as a mother. Everything I learned helped me guide my children through this school system. I was able to prepare them to go on to earn college degrees. I’m so proud of my kids.

Q. Are there any parent involvement success stories you can share?

There was a group of moms who liked to come eat lunch with their children every day. I was able to encourage them to get out of the cafeteria and into volunteering around the school. This act improved their self esteem as they weren’t just ‘here,’ but actually helping. Eventually, they were hired to work in the school system as cafeteria and recess aids. This year, I have a group of moms who don’t speak English at all but who show up to every activity. I tell them to keep coming. You’re learning. You didn’t have the opportunity to go to college, but your kids will. I have parents who call me years after they’ve moved on to update me on the success of their kids. It is very fulfilling.